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Lost Children Archive: Our Background is Our Saviour

The last half of Lost Children Archive was bitter-sweet for me. I knew that this would be the final chapters of this class yet was excited to uncover the final messages of Luiselli’s book.I continued reading and found one resounding concept pour through the pages: our beliefs, no matter where they come from, allow us to persevere against life’s most difficult moments. Through the children’s harsh travel, it especially hints at how previous experiences (through the stories told and songs heard) plays a crucial role in that perseverance.

The boy and girl’s travel in the scorching desert tells of the odds of survival being stacked against them, however, their dogmas and previous experiences allowed them to hold on and ultimately survive. Swift Feather and Memphis, names which they had been influenced by their Father’s stories are not simply name-tags, but represent a deeper connection to one another and to their parents, who they long to return back to. The names allow for a heartfelt connection (especially between the siblings) as beforehand names were never mentioned; lacking feelings of intimate relations. The bond between names also relates to their connection to their parents, as they had both received names as well (Lucky Arrow and Papa Cochise). On their journey, through their repeated use of calling each other by their “Apache” name, they reinforce the connection between them and their parents, allowing them to brave the desert and survive. The final point relating to names is the use of Major Tom and Ground Control taken from Space Oddity where by addressing each other with those names allows them to feel safe and secure back to a time their survival wasn’t threatened; in the car. Use of the names, subconsciously transports their lives full of hardship to good times had in the car, not having a care in the world.

Lost Children Archive really hits a chord with me. Originally I did not like the book, but through more thorough analysis and understanding the bigger picture, I would gladly read this book again. There are many subtle details in Lusielli’s novel. Whether about the fleetingness of love or the importance of one’s history, this book unpacks philosophical issues while at the same time tackling a pressing contemporary problem; the forgotten and disregarded stories of refugee children.

So long and farewell everyone! It was a pleasure to write these blog posts and interact with all your thought-provoking insights. I’ll miss you SPAN 322 Blog, but I’m sure you won’t be forgotten!

See everyone tomorrow!

-Curtis HR

Lost Children Archive: How to Shape a World View

While reading the first half of Lost Children Archive, I was struck by the constant idea of how Valeria and her partner’s parenting and interests shape their own kids’ perceptions about the world around them. This concept of developing a world view, of course, is paralleled throughout the book with the constant discussion about refugees’ struggles to reach the haven known as the United States. Though there are many major themes in the book (because Luiselli asks a ton of thought-provoking, philosophical questions), I want to discuss how children’s minds are blank slates; and whether having a comfortable life or being a refuge in search of a better life, one’s world view is malleable especially in childhood.

The two perspectives in the book are one of the American child, with a good upbringing and parents to guide them in their lives, and the refugee child, often having to brave the treacherous journey of making it North of the Rio Grande by themselves.

The American child, in this case, is represented in both “the boy” and “the girl”. Their odd names were given to them preventing a hyphenated relationship between non-biological relatives. This “family lexicon”, however, does not inhibit the children from having the best relationship with one another, always making sure the other is taken care of. Furthermore, as the kids have an intimate connection, they also share similar world views simply because they have lived essentially the same lives and have received identical parenting in recent memory. Through their parents’ shared work, recording and archiving sounds of daily city life, the pleasure of capturing the world around them is passed on to their kids; especially their “boy”. It’s also interesting that through the father’s love of the Apaches, telling them seemingly magical stories of the long-ago, and the mother’s interest in helping recover the stories of “lost children” at the borders, those two worlds are amalgamated into one by the two siblings. Through skits, stories, and songs between the kids, they combine these two passions of their parents into a passion of their own. These are the major scenes that stuck out to me. However, the minute interactions reveal the same idea as well. By asking who “Jesus Fucking Christ” is by “the girl” or prodding about what’s the point of archiving by “the boy”, these two kids, with a safe and secure upbringing, are learning their parents’ beliefs and mannerisms and reproducing them page after page. However, we learn that not all children can be so lucky to have extensive and caring conversations with their parents.

The travel of the refuge child to the USA, revealed slowly through small snippets, is one that the child has to endure alone. In the case of Manuela and her two girls, they were left to find their way to the United States and reunite with their mother. However, as Border Patrol found the kids, they were detained and their whereabouts soon became unknown. I want to unpack how a traumatic journey and detainment to and in the US border could have detrimental psychological implications for mental growth and maturation. Braving the travel to the USA, usually by taking “La Bestia” (a railroad that is commonly used to take hopeful refugees to the border) is a route where children could become sick, injured, or even dead. If one manages to avoid those challenges, the effects of being detained, being captured and ultimately criminalized, could ruin a child’s perspective of the world around them. Wanting to be with their family or live in a place free from violence, the trauma experienced by children seeking refuge could lead to long term depression or other illnesses; not even including the potential to inhibit healthy mental maturation. Also, the heartache of being deported back to a dangerous place and erasing your chances at seeing a loved one in the USA is not only mentally damaging but physically dangerous as well.

Lost Children Archive tackles many issues regarding philosophical dilemmas of love, loss, deportation, identity, etc. However, through her juxtaposition of the life of children in America, safe and having parental guidance, to the life of a refugee, fending for their life and suffering through a dangerous journey, it’s apparent that the mentalities of a child are formed by the world they experience. This book not only speaks to how the refugee “crisis” of people seeking asylum in the United States is a threat to one’s security, but mental well-being and growth too

-Curtis HR.

The House on Mango Street: A Tale of Sexual Assault

The House on Mango Street! Wow. This book has so many themes and major ideas that it discusses in such a short format. Every page offers so much insight and such profoundness that I was blown away. One theme in particular that kept reoccuring was that of sexual assault and the subordination of women. This book contains a ton of uncomfortable topics, however with themes like sexism, it puts them into easily digestible concepts that read like a children’s story book.

In the book, there are characters that have multiple unwanted sexual encounters; Esperanza and Sally. Through Esperanza’s three experiences, she uncovers that sexual aggression is all too common for a young girl of her age. In “Chanclas,” Esperanza dances at a wedding, and is creepily stalked by a “boy who is a man [watching her] dance.” He is claimed to be her “cousin by first communion,” but through the progression of the night, he seems to prey on Esperanza the entire night; violating her with his eyes. This reveals that even though Esperanza thought she knew and trusted an almost family member, anyone has the potential to be a sexual aggressor. “The First Job” was one of the first chapters I’ve read THIS YEAR where I’ve had to put the book down and pause. As Esperanza gets her first job and realizes she doesn’t really fit in, she “befriends” an Oriental man who talks to her during her lunch breaks. They get along, but then claiming it is his birthday, asks for a birthday kiss and “grabs [her] face with both hands and kisses [her] hard on the mouth and doesn’t let go.” Utterly disgusting. An old man, seemingly mild and friendly, becomes a monster, a predator, in the blink of an eye. With this scene, we see Esperanza get used for a man’s pleasure yet again. Also, the book carries a message of not letting your guard down and not wholeheartedly trusting people; fearing they have a secret agenda or desire. Finally, in “Red Clowns,” Esperanza experiences physical sexual assault by an unknown man who repeatedly says, “I love you, Spanish girl.” Esperanza begs him to stop, but he continues to have his way with her. A soul-wrenching scene that I am lost for words to even describe. Through the progression of the book, sexual assault is brought to light while also an idea of apprehensiveness about unknown men is constantly reinforced; begging readers to take precautions and not endure the same trauma she has in the past.

The other character, Sally, is the character of choice for Cisneros to display the devastating consequences of both parental assault and being taken advantage of. Sally, whose traumas stem from an abusive father, is often talked about by the boys; thinking she is the most beautiful girl they have ever laid eyes on. Sally’s one wish is “to love and to love and to love,” but as she cannot get that from her father, becomes eye candy for boys around the school, frequently hooking up with them. When Sally and some boys are fooling around in the back of a pickup truck, Sally told Esperanza to “go home” and give her and the boys time alone. Such a sad life Sally is living, obtaining the attention she needs to survive by having casual sex with boys who only care for her looks all because of the mental and physical abuse brought onto her by her neglectful father.

This book, deceptively quaint and colorful, really made me feel strong emotions (it almost made me tear up). From themes of identity, mental illness, tradition, language, and even sexual assault, this book tackles it all. I’m eager to discuss this with all of you tomorrow; attempting to scratch the surface of the book’s profound messages.

-Curtis HR

Bless Me, Ultima: Lost Innocence and New Discovery

The last half of Bless Me, Ultima was quite hard to get through as there were many violent and thought provoking scenes. For example, when the boys outside the church pretend that Antonio is a priest and they confess their worst sins to him; very difficult to get through as both Antonio and the confessors are participating against their will. Two other examples are when Antonio sees his brother come out of what is assumed to be a brothel and when he must bury the Ultima’s owl. These three scenes really resonated with me and I will examine them further.

Chapter 18 sees Antonio and his friends practice going to confession, as they name Tony as the priest that listens to the others’ sins. As Tony feels guilty and wonders “how [a] priest could shoulder the burden of all the sins he heard”, he bears witness to many evil things that the other kids have seen and done. Hearing stories of stalking girls in the school washroom to seeing a couple have sex in public, Tony’s innocence and desire for priesthood slowly withers away. But as Tony can barely take the strain of his role, Florence, a non-religious boy, says he has not sinned against God, but God has sinned against him. The mob of children demand a harsh penance for Florence’s word, but Tony remembers the tale of the golden carp and how people’s “sins will sink the town into the lake” and forgives Florence of all his wrongdoing. This is a pivotal moment in the book, not only because Antonio realizes the burden of being un sacerdote, but because Tony amalgamates his beliefs and creates one solution. He recognizes (and is discussed later) that the Catholic church punishes people frequently, but Tony values the importance of forgiving and not being so harsh on those who have made mistakes. This small detail reinforces the idea that Tony will not simply be a follower, blindly obeying the rules of a certain faith or belief, but will create his own path and own way of being that attempts to rid the world of its previous pitfalls.

Another scene in which Tony understands more about the realities of the world is when he sees his brother emerge from the doorway of a brothel. As Tony is following Narciso, who is trying to protect Ultima from Tenorio, he sees his brother Andrew walk out from Rosie’s, a place that was rumored to be evil. Tony sees scantily clad women surrounding Andrew, begging him to come back inside. His seemingly good and pure brother has been tainted by the sinfulness of provocative women. Tony feels as though he has “lost [his] innocence” and that the presence of God “was far away.” His connection to God has diminished for this period of time, but because of this, turns to his other faith of the golden carp. Remembering that, “sins of the town would be washed in the waters of the golden carp,” Antonio believes there is hope for his brother by turning to another belief system further strengthening this idea that Antonio’s identity will be something that he consciously creates himself.

Finally in chapter 22, the the final major event that happens is the burial of Ultima’s owl, or as we learn in later chapters, Ultima herself. As Tenorio kills Ultima’s owl, Ultima becomes frail and weak and asks that Tony bury her owl under a “forked juniper tree.” All goes well, but in the final couple lines of the book, we realize where Antonio’s faith lies. Throughout the book there was reference to the major importance of burial on sacred ground; blessed ground of the Catholic church. However, as Tony buries Ultima’s owl (and her spirit as well), Tony says that her church burial was only “the ceremony that was prescribed by custom” showing that he does not believe in the sacred powers of the church but rather trusts the word of Ultima more. This change of heart hints at Antonio not becoming the priest his mother wants him to, but a healer like Ultima was.

Throughout the entire book, Antonio never was a carbon copy of what those around him wanted him to be. Antonio’s identity, characteristics, and future were constructed by no one besides himself showing that he is wise beyond his years. While other characters throughout the book were static, clinging to their dogmas and old mannerisms, Antonio absorbed the knowledge and stories of those around him, truly meaning he has become “a man of learning.”

See everyone tomorrow online!

-Curtis HR

Bless Me, Ultima: Who Knows What to Think

I have been pretty impressed with myself, a person who had not take a liking to books before this year, getting through texts like With His Pistol in His Hand and the Squatter and the Don. However, though I understand Bless Me, Ultima, I am struggling to piece together a bigger picture idea and connect it to the Latino/Chicano experience. This blog post along with discussion tomorrow will hopefully solve my confusion.

There are a couple key ideas in Bless Me, Ultima that seem to jump off the page; family division, religiosity, and the learning. The family division is seen in almost every chapter of the book, as the father of Antonio wants him to grow up and be a farmer and work on the llano, but Antonio’s mother wants him to become a priest and be a success in the family. This division leads to disagreement, anger, and even alcoholism. Antonio seems to gravitate towards his mother, believing that he is destined to become a priest and be a “man of learning.” Further family division is apparent when Antonio’s brothers return from the war, and their short stay is ended by their desire to move away from the llano and make their own future. The brothers sudden impulse to create their own paths could be another key theme in the book; intuition (but I digress).

Religion also is a very important part of this book. As the family is divided with the brothers moving away and the parents wanting different careers for Antonio, religion seeks to divide the family as well. Antonio’s mother is devoutly religious, who takes the time to pray for it seems almost everything. Whether it be the brothers returning, a frightful night occurring, or Antonio getting good grades, the family (excluding the father) seems to be gathered around the statue of the Virgin Mary ’round-the-clock. Another important note with religion in this book is that it is not the most powerful force, as most would claim it is, but rather it is Ultima’s magic that is godly. Apparent with Antonio’s uncle, the church turns him away when he is dying from a presumed curse by three evil witches. However, Ultima’s cure rids him of the evil and makes Antonio question the true power of the church. Now at war with himself, he does not know what to believe; whether to follow the word of God or follow the teachings of Ultima.

The last big idea of the book is teaching. From the day Antonio was born, he was taught the difference between right and wrong, what it means to be Catholic, and what his destiny should be. Tony’s life seemed to be figured out until Ultima came along, made him feel a spiritual connectedness towards her, and began learning the details of her cures and magic. Ultima, nearing death, is passing on her knowledge to Antonio, prepping him not to become a priest like his mother wants, but rather preparing him to become a healer, a curandero who can help others more than the Catholic church can. His teaching does not end with Ultima though, as Antonio is in awe of the power of reading and writing. Almost every time Tony is at school, he is starstruck by the magical figures on chalkboards or sheets of paper, wanting to decipher them. Antonio is definitely a “man of learning”, but I believe he will not learn the ways of Catholicism like his mother wants, but rather will learn and the mystical power of words and Ultima’s way of life.

This blog post served as a blank canvas for me to write down my thoughts, observations, and predictions. It really helped me understand the book more and allowed my mind to formulate more cohesive ideas. I’m looking forward to discussion tomorrow and seeing what others come up with. As for me, I believe that the 3 main themes in the book, Bless Me, Ultima are family division, religion, and teaching/learning.

-Curtis HR

The Use of Language: Emotion has no bounds

The books we have read in 322 really have reinforced by belief that language, no matter how subtle, can reach the very core of a reader. Especially in the two texts With His Pistol In His Hand and Down These Mean Streets, the use of language invokes a strong feeling of pride or heartbreak. In With His Pistol In His Hand, the transition of language in the Corrido de Gregorio Cortez and the common use of the imperfect show how guitarreros can create a vivid lyrical story that allows the listener to become immersed in the story and feel represented in Cortez himself. On the other hand, Down These Mean Streets often uses slang to immerse the reader in 1950’s New York, effectively communicates Brew’s southern drawl to allow the reader to understand his history, and implements Spanish words to express terms of endearment or ideas that have a profound meaning behind them. No matter the book, language has the potential to immerse the reader in a story and make them feel as if they are living the life of the characters that are described.

The analysis of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez by Paredes doesn’t simply gloss over the corrido’s history and compare it to historical events, but it offers insight as to how language can create realistic imagery and creating a story that seemingly unfolds before one’s very eyes. Though the transformation of the corrido is interesting, the use of language in all variants hyperbolizes the events of Cortez and through this exaggeration of events shows Cortez as an everyday Mexican-American on the border that fights for his right and is a model for how the average man should live his life. The imagery would not be complete without the subtle yet impactful use of the imperfect tense which gives the listener the feeling that the legend of Cortez is unravelling right there in that cantina or bar. The use of the imperfect doesn’t simply list events that have happened in the past (like the preterite tense would do), but creates a feeling of continuous action in the past that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat. Through the hyperbolization of the life of Gregorio Cortez and the clever use of the imperfect tense, El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez has lived in the hearts of border Mexican-Americans because they felt as if the respectable, honourable man represented what they, as individuals and as a community, believed in and strived to become.

The feeling of being submersed into a story continues as Down These Means Streets talks about the hardships of growing up in the Spanish Harlem and beautifully does this by using slang, exemplifying accents, and using Spanish words and phrases. The use of words like “heart”, “cop” and “paddies” tell of a different time (post WWII) and makes the reader feel as though they are in 1950’s Harlem. The progressive use of this slang doesn’t deter the reader, but actually makes the reading experience more rewarding as the gradual teaching of the slang makes the reader feel like they belong in this story and can almost decode this dated language. The use of slang is impactful, but the depiction of Brew’s accent, through sounding out his southern drawl, allows the reader to understand Brew’s history and where he comes from. Though Brew has very cynical ideas about race and inequality, the phonics of Brew’s speech reinforces that he is from Mobile, Alabama constantly, relaying a message that the reader cannot forget; Brew has these pessimistic views about society because he has come from a place that doesn’t treat him like an equal or even a decent person. The importance of Brew’s message could be easily lost without the phonetic interpretation of Brew’s accent, as it constantly shows Brew’s history of racial discrimination. Lastly, Down These Mean Streets uses Spanish words and phrases to demonstrate endearing terms or ideas that carry profound significance with them. The words “hombre”, “barrio”, and “negrito” all carry very personal and very heartfelt meanings with them. With these words, Thomas transcends from simply telling his story to a passionate, intimate memoir that displays the reality and pride of his Puerto Rican heritage. Also, the use of the Spanish language creates a feeling of exclusivity with those that do not know Spanish, or heartwarming community with those that do.

Through both texts, With His Pistol in His Hand and Down These Mean Streets, clever and powerful application of language is used. Whether hyperbolization, imperfect tense, slang, phonics, or use of Spanish, these two works resonate with readers across the globe because they could captivate audiences by their beautiful demonstration of language.

-Curtis HR

Down These Mean Streets: “You can’t make yesterday come back today.”

The last half of Down These Mean Streets tackled the prevalent division in society mainly concerned with race. These conflicts result in stereotypes, discrimination, brawls, and identity crises. Though there were numerous key ideas in Thomas’s memoir, I want to analyze the attitudes of racial identity and societal disturbance regarding 3 important characters; Brew, Gerald Andrew West, and Piri. Those these individuals have profound conversations with one another, they each hold differing views on belonging in a segregated society.

The first (and probably most vocal) character that has strong beliefs about discrimination and maltreatment is Brew, who believes that “if you white, tha’s all right. If you black, da’s dat,” revealing that he views society as a hierarchical institution that sticks African-Americans at the bottom. Though his beliefs aren’t far from the truth of the world depicted in the book, he is cynical about someone being anything more than the colour of their skin. As he informs Piri repeatedly that “his skin makes him a member of the black man’s race,” this displays that Brew does not believe one’s heritage, culture, or ethnicity matters as the “paddies” and society as a whole treat others based on what they shade of skin they see. Despite understanding the plight that African-Americans must endure, Brew is “proud of being a Negro.” There are expressions and strategies that Brew remembers from his childhood in Mobile that have stuck with him, protecting himself from the systemic oppression of White over Black. Though Brew has these pessimistic and almost hopeless ideas of how society operates, it’s obvious that life in Mobile has shaped those beliefs profoundly. As we see in Brew’s home town, where Piri tries to order at a restaurant and is ignored and almost beaten by white patrons. This snippet of life in Mobile essentially forces any coloured person living there, just like Brew, to view society as oppressive, unjust, and discriminatory in order to not only find a place where one belongs but in order to survive as well.

The Brew’s negative thoughts reveal themselves when he meets Gerald Andrew West, a mixed-race Pennsylvanian that wants to write a book about “the warmth and harmony of the southern Negro.” Mr. West has black and Spanish ancestry, but the majority of his bloodline has come from White-European backgrounds. As he and Brew talk, he says how he “feels white… looks white… thinks white; therefore [is] white,” but wants to connect with his black and Spanish roots. Trying to connect to his black heritage, he has traveled to Norfolk to enjoy the company of other African-Americans, while connecting to his Spanish side takes the form of studying the Spanish language. Mr. West represents a man who struggles to find his own identity, as it would be simple for him to accept his whiteness but strives to find his true self. Gerald leaves the bar saying to Brew that he will write his book through both black and white lenses to do justice to the black community and bridge the divide between clashing racial groups. Though he is misunderstood by Brew, he continues on the path to find his identity, something that Piri Thomas has struggled with for most of his life.

In the beginning of the book, Piri has unfortunate experiences with racial divides whether it be fighting Italians on the street or being rejected by a white girl at a highschool dance. Brew comes along and proceeds to confuse an already struggling individual by saying he is no more than the colour of his skin; black. However, the progression of Thomas is truly inspiring as his time in prison changes his outlook on the division in society. After being sentenced for 5-15 years at Sing Sing, Piri continues to play it “cara palo”, showing no real emotion to anyone other than to friendly Hispanic and Latino convicts. Soon he is transferred to Comstock, where he begins to comprehend the pecking order of prisons; “At the top are con men… Just beneath them are disbarred lawyers and abortionists… In the middle are the heist men. Thieves and burglers rank just below them. And at the bottom are rapists, faggots, crooked cops, and junkies.” This recognition of the prison pecking order is the start of Piri changing his mentality of social division for the sole reason that the pecking order did not include race. In prison, it didn’t matter what someone’s skin colour was, at least not as much as the outside world. A continuation of Piri’s mental transformation continues as he displays good behaviour practically throughout the entire duration of his sentence. Occasional fights spring up, but never to harm anyone; only to show “heart.” In prison, Piri also admires a friendly white cop, Casey, showing that he drops even more barriers and begins to see the good in some police officers. Finally, the last change Piri experiences is learning about Islam. Though he doesn’t keep with the religion after his sentence, the religion teaches him about community, belonging, faith, and the power of an individual’s actions. Through his lengthy time in prison, Piri develops new beliefs and practices that, when he is freed from prison, give him the tools to tear down discriminatory barriers and create a meaningful life for himself rather than living an unhealthy and addictive lifestyle in the “Mean Streets” of the Spanish Harlem.

-Curtis HR

Down These Mean Streets: “Pops… you love us all the same, right?”

In reading the first half of Down These Mean Streets I recognized a major theme that was apparent in every single chapter: belonging. In the beginning chapters, there is a constant reaffirmation that Piri feels like his father does not treat him (or even love him) the same as his siblings. He wants his father’s attention and affection but feels he is deprived of it. Growing out of the prepubescent stage of his life, he proceeds to take the streets and looks for his reputation and cred within groups and gangs. At times, he has a sense of belonging with his amigos but the struggle of racial identity bleeds through the pages, especially in the last couple of chapters. Though there are two major conflicts within the first half of the book, I want to discuss and analyze Piri’s struggle for acceptance from his father as I believe it lays a crucial framework for future chapters and displays the importance of finding where one belongs.

As soon as the book begins, we are confronted with Piri’s father lashing his son with his belt revealing the cold relationship that Piri and his Poppa have. Though the book often drifts to life on the street, whether visualizing junkies lighting up or understanding Piri’s 12-year-old ‘gang’, the divide between Piri and his father is clearly emphasized. When Poppa comes home one day, Piri thinks to himself why they are always “on the outs” with one another and how his dad sounds “harder and meaner” when addressing him. As Piri thinks to himself, “how come when we all get hit for doing something wrong, I feel it the hardest,” this reaffirms the straightforward yet upsetting relationship that Piri and Poppa have. Despite this, the cold relationship with his father doesn’t demotivate Piri but rather invigorates his courage and toughness in the streets. As he scraps with an Italian boy, Tony, Piri forces himself to keep fighting and to keep throwing punches; showing his father that he “ain’t gonna cop out” and that he is “a fighter, too.”

However, this constant need for compassion from his father is not fruitless as Poppa, seeing Piri displaying his breath-holding skills in the bath one day, says to his son, “I bet you could be a great swimmer.” This small, seemingly insignificant detail boosts Piri’s confidence, surely feeding his desire for acceptance, but yet more words of affirmation are given when Piri has gravel thrown in his eyes. When Piri is taken to the hospital, he and his father have a profound conversation, one that both Piri and the reader were longing for. As Poppa promises his son a pair of roller skates when he gets out of the hospital, Piri shows his father how tough he is; enduring the pain of tar in his eyes. The conversation draws to a close when his father leaves the room, but not before saying, “Son… you’re un hombre.” With that line, Piri feels proud that he has earned the respect and admiration of his father, something that he had been malnourished from for all his life. It’s with this scene at the hospital that his father acknowledges Piri’s strength, the two have a meaningful conservation, and both display a sincere appreciation for one another. Though most of the book touches on the conflict of racial identity and inclusion in a societal context, I believe that Piri’s emotional journey of finding acceptance and compassion from his father constructs an unforgettable plight, showing how the ones we value the most can deprive us of the very thing we need to survive; love and a sense of belonging.

-Curtis HR

With His Pistol in His Hand: Part Two

In reading the last half of With His Pistol in His Hand, what stood out to me was the profound history of the transformation of the corrido and also the slight word choices (and verb tenses) that added to the imagery and storytelling of the story of Gregorio Cortez. The legend of Gregorio Cortez told by Paredes in the beginning of the book is only one variant of this tale and its interesting to see that there are another 9 variants that all highlight different events. Though the other 9 variants show the diverse history of the corrido, I am amazed to see the strategically placed adjectives and verb tenses, mainly the imperfect tense, that submerge the listener into the life of Cortez. I never truly appreciated literary analysis until the study of this legend.

The diversity and transformation of El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez is pretty remarkable. Each variant comes from a different part of Mexico and each carries its own message that it wants to deliver. Some corridos stress the importance of the initial killing of Sheriff Morris while others gloss over it almost entirely. Some stress the importance of the surrender of Cortez, showing that he fought for his right till the very end, but others emphasize how the ending, the despedida, shows Cortez not giving into the police and hinting that he lived the rest of his life as a free man. The variance of the corrido reveals the attitudes of the ballad singers and the message they wanted to convey to their audience. Though some stressed the importance of the killing of Morris while others highlighted the capture of Cortez, one idea remained the same throughout all the corridos; he was an honourable man that “defended his right with his pistol in his hand.”

The final take away from the last half of the book was the use of the imperfect verb tense and the importance of creating a story that envelopes the listener completely. The imperfect tense in Spanish conveys a repeated action or an action in progress in the past, whereas the preterite form states that the action has been completed. Though it would have been simple for ballad singers to use the preterite (as it usually has fewer syllables) they usually used the imperfect as it created a scene of continuous action, submerging the listener into the story. An example of this is “venĂ­an los americanos” compared to “vinieron los americanos.” The difference here is one translates to “the Americans were coming” while the other says “the Americans came.” The use of imperfect creates a developing narrative that the listener becomes a witness to, as it doesn’t simply recount a laundry list of things that have already been completed, but shows a story unraveling and unfolding right there in the local cantina, where El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez was being sung.

-Curtis HR

With His Pistol in His Hand: Part One

While reading With His Pistol in His Hand I thoroughly enjoyed reading the legend of Gregorio Cortez. I love how Cortez is said to have been feared across Texas and could strike fear into the hearts of 300+ armed men with a glance. The supernatural power of the sorrel mare also was quite impressive as it outran numerous sturdier and stronger horses. Though El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez is very hyperbolic and at times utterly ridiculous, I found two important topics covered in the first half of this book; the prejudiced beliefs held by the border people and how Gregorio is not only a simple icon but rather a representation of the characteristics of the Mexican people.

Both sides of the Border, whether Mexican or Texan, held unsavoury beliefs about the opposing group. Texans, mainly Texas Rangers, believed that they were superior to everyone, especially in relation to the thieving, inferior, and cowardly Mexican. On the southern side, we see Mexicans understand the Texan Rangers as bloodthirsty yet lily-livered Americans that were afraid of confrontation and often “shot first and asked questions later”. These beliefs about the other proved to further divide a people already separated by national boundary. We can still see some of these prejudices today, showing that they were not simply divisive remarks made to hurt the feelings of the other, but have tremendous implications in forming meaningful relationships with people of different backgrounds. The Mexican and Texan beliefs created an even larger divide between citizens of different societies, but in reality, the two groups may have had more commonalities uniting them rather than segregating them.

Though there were strong divisions in the Border communities, the legend of Gregorio Cortez truly brought the Mexican people together, as he represented what a Mexican citizen could become. Gregorio Cortez was a simple man with a very eventful life and though he was transformed into a historic icon, the legend was formed in such a way to connect wholeheartedly to every Mexican citizen. It is said he was neither short nor tall, not light nor dark, and not skinny nor heavy. He was an expert in farming, a master in taming horses, and an excellent gunslinger. Cortez represented every Mexican landowner, symbolizing what every Mexican wanted to become. The creation of the legend only strengthened the feeling of pride within Mexican communities, as they were honoured to share qualities with the Border Hero, Gregorio Cortez. Although the beliefs held by both the Mexicans and Texans sought to divide the people indefinitely, the legend of Gregorio Cortez was the epitome of brotherhood and unity within the nation of Mexico.

-Curtis HR